Interview With Cardinal Burke . . . Insights On The State Of The Church In The Aftermath Of The Ordinary Synod On The Family
By DON FIER
(Editor’s Note: His Eminence Raymond Leo Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, recently traveled from Rome to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in La Crosse, Wis., a magnificent place of worship which he founded and dedicated.
(His Eminence graciously granted an extensive interview to The Wanderer during which he shared his insights on a variety of topics, including the recently concluded Ordinary Synod of Bishops on the Family and his recommendations for how we should contend with the uncertainty and confusion that is currently prevalent among the clerical and lay faithful.)
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Q. Several weeks have passed since the Synod on the Family, and I presume you have now had time to study carefully the final report. In your view, what are the main fruits of the Synod, and how best can the Church take advantage of them?
A. The final report is a complex document and is written in a way in which it is not always easy to understand the exact import of what is being affirmed. For example, three paragraphs (nn. 84-86) suggest that the last session of the Synod found a way whereby people who are in irregular matrimonial unions can still receive the sacraments. To address the lack of clarity in the document, I have written a brief commentary on those paragraphs to clarify what the Church actually teaches.
Since the close of the Synod, Fr. Antonio Spadaro, a Jesuit who was one of the Synod Fathers and on the drafting committee of the Synod, has published an article in which he gives as a central highlight of this Synod something the prior one was unable to accomplish, namely, to open up a way for reception of Holy Communion and Penance by those who are divorced and civilly remarried. In conscience, I felt I had to publish a clarification about what he wrote.
There are many good things in the final report, but there are many other things that I intend to write about, in order to make clear the Church’s teaching. For example, I do not think the statement about parental responsibility for education is adequately stated. It could give the impression that parents are not the first ones who are responsible for the education of their children.
Overall, as made evident in Fr. Spadaro’s article, there is a philosophical presupposition to the reasoning in the document which, first of all, is simply not correct. Secondly, it is very inimical to Catholic teaching. For instance, it is claimed that there are the truths of the Faith and also what are referred to as “the truths of history” (i.e., of the changing times).
We understand that times change, and we face new developments, but we also understand that the substance of things remains the same. There is a truth against which we must measure the changes that we encounter in time. This is not clear in the Synod’s final document, especially if Fr. Spadaro’s article is meant to be a true representation of the thinking of the Synod. If it is, there are some serious clarifications that must be made.
For my own part, I think the best thing would be for the final report to be continued to be studied by true teachers of the Faith. I trust that there will not be any further action taken on the controversial matters treated in the final report, since they touch upon the very foundations of our Catholic Faith.
Fr. Spadaro’s article, for instance, gives the impression that there is some kind of resolution to the situation of persons in an invalid marriage union which would permit them to receive the sacraments apart from what the Church has always understood: the decision, in conscience, to live as brother and sister, if the parties cannot separate, and, then, to receive the sacraments in a place where they will not create scandal because people see that they are living together and know they are bound by a prior union.
To give an impression that there is another solution in the internal forum is false and creates false expectations in people, confusing them with regard to the nature of conscience and the moral truth to which our conscience is always to conform itself.
Obviously, there are good fruits from the Synod such as its emphasis on marriage preparation and its critical importance. For my own part, I would like to have seen more emphasis on the preparation for marriage, both remote and immediate.
I think the fundamental question with regard to the pastoral care of those called to marriage and of families today is catechesis. We have generations of Catholic who do not understand much about their Catholic Faith, and that includes the Church’s teaching on the sacramental nature of marriage and on the family. That teaching should be emphasized above all, beginning with children.
When I was a child being catechized with the Baltimore Catechism, some of the first definitions I learned had to do with the sacrament of marriage. This is not taught anymore. Young people, at the time they are preparing for marriage, should receive an intense catechesis. However, it should be an intensifying of what they already know. Also, we need to educate the faithful in general, many of whom are poorly catechized and are actually being led into confusion about these matters.
Q. The Synod’s final report did offer praise for large families, affirmed openness to life, and encouraged the “rediscovery” of magisterial documents that promote a culture of life (e.g., St. John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio and Blessed Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae). In a culture in which well more than 50 percent of the laity do not accept the Church’s teaching on contraception (if polls are to be believed), how can this be effectively translated into lived faith at a parish level?
A. Here too, it is a question of catechesis. Documents such as Humanae Vitae and Familiaris Consortio cannot be referenced in just a general way, almost like waving a banner. They must be thoroughly studied in parishes, and priests need to preach about them so as to illustrate the truths that these documents set forth in such a wonderful way.
If we know — as surely we do — that the culture is completely opposed to the teaching contained in these two documents, if we know — as surely we do — that many of the faithful are not well catechized and will tend to go along with what the culture thinks rather than what the Church teaches, then we must realize that it is incumbent upon us to evangelize with regard to marriage and family as if for the first time. In my judgment, that is the sole answer.
An important reason for trying to assist married couples to live the truth of marriage is because little ones learn the fundamental truths about marriage in the home from observing the relationship between their parents.
Children know — even if their parents do not talk about it — when their parents are contracepting; they know if their parents are not fully loving with each other. We need to emphasize, too, the home as the primary locus of evangelization regarding marriage and the family. We need to help those who are striving to live the truth of their marriage commitment to persevere and get stronger. And for those who are having struggles, we must recognize their need for conversion of life and try to lead them to the truth in a loving manner.
Deceptive In A Serious Way
Q. The Synod Fathers, in quoting part of paragraph 84 of Familiaris Consortio, stopped short of including an important sentence: “The Church reaffirms her practice, which is based upon Sacred Scripture, of not admitting to Eucharistic Communion divorced persons who have remarried.” This omission must have been disheartening for you, particularly in view of the recent release of the Italian translation of your book on the Eucharist entitled Divine Love Made Flesh.
In your judgment, why was this teaching omitted from the final report? Does not its omission make it appear as if the Church is opening herself up to changing one of her unchangeable dogmatic teachings?
A. Of course it does; there is no question about it. The final report’s paragraph on this topic is deceptive in a very serious way. It gives the false impression of presenting the teaching of Familiaris Consortio, a teaching which is also illustrated in a document by the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts [to which the final report also refers]. The Synod’s final report suggests that Familiaris Consortio and the Pontifical Council’s document open a way for access to the sacraments by people in irregular matrimonial unions. It is just the opposite.
I was truly disheartened that the final report stopped short of presenting the full teaching of Familiaris Consortio in the matter. First of all, the truth as presented by St. John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio was misrepresented in the Synod’s document as was the truth as illustrated and underlined in the Pontifical Council’s document. That in itself discouraged me very much, especially in consideration of the fact that it was done at the level of a Synod of Bishops.
At the same time, I was also disturbed because I knew this would be used by individuals like Fr. Spadaro and others to say that the Church has changed her teaching in this regard, which, in fact, is simply not true.
I really believe that the whole teaching in Familiaris Consortio should have been addressed through the final document of the Synod. During my experience of the 2014 Extraordinary Synod of Bishops, it was as if Pope John Paul II never existed. If one studies the Synod’s final document, the richness of the magisterial teaching of Familiaris Consortio, which is such a beautiful document, is not there.
This would have been the ideal time to recover it and present it again in all its richness. One gets the strong impression that, even though it was repeatedly claimed that the Synod was not about relaxing the Church’s teaching or discipline regarding the indissolubility of marriage, this was indeed, in the end, what was driving everything.
For Fr. Spadaro, considering all the things contained in the final document, to point to the notion that this Synod accomplished what the other session could not, is very troubling. We have to be honest with one another about this. Something here is not right.
Conscience And Truth
Q. “Inviolability of conscience” was emphasized by some of the Synod Fathers when speaking about controversial topics (e.g., Holy Communion for divorced/civilly remarried couples). However, it seems as if little was said about the necessity of properly forming one’s conscience in objective truth. I vividly recall a moral theology professor under whom I once studied often repeating: “We are culpable for everything we could have and should have known.” Please illuminate readers on the precise teaching of the Church on formation of conscience.
A. It is true that the conscience is, as John Henry Cardinal Newman called it, the “primordial Vicar of Christ.” In other words, it is the voice of God speaking to our heart from the very first moment of creation about what is right and wrong, what is good and evil, what is in accord with His plan for the world and what is not.
Newman goes on to explain that conscience, in order to exercise its critical role, has to be formed in accordance with truth. The conscience is not some kind of subjective faculty where your conscience tells you one thing and my conscience tells me the opposite. It is something that unifies us because both of our consciences, if they are conformed to the truth, are going to tell us the same thing.
Newman went on to say that the Lord instructs our conscience through faith and reason and through His visible representatives on earth (the Popes and the bishops in communion with him, that is, the Magisterium). So it is not a subjective thing at all. We must act according to our conscience, but it can be an infallible guide for us only if it is formed both by reason itself and by the truths of our Faith, which are always in agreement with one another.
A magnificent catechesis on the conscience was given by Pope Benedict XVI in an address to the Roman Curia just before Christmas 2010. Pope Benedict does his catechesis in terms of the teaching of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, who is one of the Church’s greatest teachers about conscience. [Cardinal Burke gives a thorough presentation of this address in one of his talks, which The Wanderer will publish in a future issue.]
Q. On a related topic, according to a Catholic News Agency report dated October 16, 2015, a leading prelate was quoted as saying that it is “questionable whether sexual actions can be judged independent of the lived context” and suggested that it is unrealistic for the divorced-and-remarried to refrain from sexual activity (a stance that was strongly rebutted by Francis Cardinal Arinze in an interview with LifeSiteNews as reported in an article on October 21, 2015). Please comment on the role that “lived context” might play in judging objectively sinful actions.
A. The “lived context” is the context in which we live the truth. In other words, we are to follow Christ by doing the Father’s will in every context of life. You cannot judge moral truths on the basis of context — this is what is classically referred to as proportionalism or consequentialism.
This mode of thinking says, for example, that, although it is always wrong to abort, if you are in a situation where you are under a great deal of pressure, it could be permissible in that particular circumstance. That is simply false. We are called to live our Catholic Faith heroically. Even the weakest person receives the grace from Christ to live the truth in love.
We judge the lived context in terms of the truth of Christ. If someone was ignorant of the moral evil involved in a certain action which is objectively gravely evil, it is possible that he or she is not culpable in the sense they have committed a sin (to commit a mortal sin, you must know it is a sinful act and nonetheless freely choose to go ahead).
However, the objective morality of the action is not in any way changed by the lived context. It is the objective truth which calls the “lived context” to a radical transformation.
To say to people who are living together in an irregular union that they are called to live chastely as brother and sister is to say to them that they will be given the grace necessary to live in a chaste manner. That grace comes from the marriage to which they are truly bound. That is precisely what is expected of us.